Review of Michael Witt’s JEAN-LUC GODARD, CINEMA HISTORIAN

Published, in a slightly shorter version, in the August 2014 Sight and Sound. — J.R.

JEAN-LUC GODARD, CINEMA HISTORIAN

By Michael Witt. Indiana University Press, 276pp. £20.65.

paperback,  ISBN 9780253007285

jeanlucgodardcinemahistorian

Reviewed by Jonathan Rosenbaum

 histoire(s)5

There has been a slew of important books lately devoted to post-60s Godard, including Daniel Morgan’s Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema, Jerry White’s Two Bicycles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, and Godard’s own Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, translated by Timothy Barnard — the latter including Michael Witt’s introductory, 55-page ‘Archaeology of Histoire(s) du cinéma’. But none seems quite as durable, both as a beautiful object and as a user-friendly intellectual guide, as Witt’s superbly lucid, jargon-free book about Histoire(s) du cinéma, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian.

histoire(s)6

Copiously illustrated with frame enlargements that complement the text without ever seeming redundant, this examination of the philosophical, historical, and aesthetic underpinnings of Godard’s masterwork isn’t only about a four and a half-hour video; it’s also about the work’s separate reconfigurations as a series of books, a set of CDs, and a 35-millimeter feature of 84 minutes (Moments choisis des Histoire(s) du cinéma).… Read more »

Whose Cinema? (From Marketplace to Community)

Written for Whose Cinema?, a Critics’ Choice Slow Criticism Project booklet published at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, January 27 — February 7, 2016, and in the February issue of the online Filmkrant. — J.R.

Sneeze in Notfilm

a-kino-essay

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“Back then [in Hungary in the late 1970s], it was the censorship of the politics, and now we have the censorship of the market. What has changed? The climate is the same. If you are a filmmaker, it is always fucked up.”

                              –Béla Tarr at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), 2012

 

“Piracy isn’t a victimless crime,” is what we read at the beginnings of an inordinate number of DVDs and Blu-Rays — to which I’m often tempted to reply that capitalism isn’t always or invariably a victimless crime either, especially when the victim turns out to be the consumer. And the fact that piracy is usually regarded as a crime and capitalism usually isn’t should mark the beginning of any clear-headed discussion of who (or what) cinema should belong to.

 

If “Whose cinema?” is a question that needs to be answered, we first have to add another question, and an even thornier one — “What cinema (or whose cinema) are we talking about?” — before we can even think about formulating an answer.… Read more »

Preface to the Korean Edition of GOODBYE CINEMA, HELLO CINEPHILIA

Written in October 2012 for what was supposed to have been the first (and, so far, only) translated edition of my most recent collection, although it has never come out. There is, however, a Korean translation of my earlier collection Essential Cinema, which is due to come out later this month (with a new Afterword, available here).

In retrospect, I’m sorry that I didn’t find some way of mentioning Lee Chang-dong’s extraordinary Poetry (2010), my favorite Korean film [see all the stills below] — and one that, incidentally, helps to explain the reason for my alienation from most of the other South Korean films I’ve seen and their excessive reliance on rape and serial killers as subjects (something that I was embarrassed to bring up in this Preface, written at the request of the publisher). This film in fact addresses the theme of rape and its role in Korean society quite directly. — J.R.

My acquaintance with cinephilia in South Korea is limited. My only first- hand knowledge comes from my experience as a juror on Indie Vision at the Jeonju International Film Festival in the Spring of 2006 and my acquaintance over a longer period with the brilliant and discerning critic and programmer Un-Seong Yoo, who worked for that festival for many years and, more recently, was my fellow juror on the New Directors jury at the San Sebastian Film Festival in the Fall of 2011.I credit Un-Seong in particular for some of the crucial choices and selections made for the extraordinary Jeonju Digital Project that began in the year 2000, and has already yielded such masterpieces as Jia Zhang-ke’s In Public (2001), Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Twelve Twenty (2006), and Pedro Costa’s The Rabbit Hunters (2007).Read more »

Afterword to the Korean Edition of ESSENTIAL CINEMA

Written at the request of Jae-cheol Lim, the editor of this Korean edition of Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (second edition, 2008), which was translated by Ahn Kearn Hyung and is scheduled for publication late this month. — J.R.

Afterword to the Korean Edition of ESSENTIAL CINEMA (January 2016):

essential-cinema

 

The closer one comes to the present, the harder and more hazardous it becomes to compile a list of the best films. As I’ve recently pointed out elsewhere, one should consider the lengths of time between Jean Vigo’s death and the first appearances of Zéro de conduite and L’Atalante in the U.S. (thirteen years), or between the first screening of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 and its recent appearances on Blu-Ray (forty-five years), and it becomes obvious that the popular custom of listing the best films of any given year is unavoidably a mythological undertaking derived more from faith than from any secure knowledge. By the same token, film history in the present should be divided between important filmmakers skilled and successful in hawking their own goods, from Alfred Hitchcock to Spike Lee to Lars von Trier, and those who, for one reason or another, aren’t — a less definitive roll call that includes, among many others, Charles Burnett, Ebrahim Golestan, Luc Moullet, Peter Thompson, Orson Welles, and John Gianvito.… Read more »

Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film

From Cineaste, Fall 2003. — J.R.

Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film

by Peter Wollen. London and New York: Verso, 2002. 314pp. Hardcover: $60.00 and Paperback: $20.00.

One of the more interesting paradoxes of Peter Wollen’s writing career is that he was perceived as an academic well before he had a long-term teaching post whereas today, with a seemingly permanent berth in the critical studies program at UCLA’s film department, he’s more apt to come across as a journalist. Part of this has to do with the magazines he writes for, though it might be added that for better and for worse — and more for the better — there’s always been a breezy, nonpedantic side to his writing that makes it far more accessible and user-friendly than the work of many of his more theoretically-minded colleagues. Paris Hollywood, his latest collection, is an agreeable showcase for this quality — more so, in many ways, than Readings and Writings (1982) and Raiding the Icebox (1993).

There are, to be sure, some scholarly limitations to Wollen’s lightness of tone, at least when he falls too readily into certain easy generalizations. It may sound reasonable to write of Godard’s early work (in “JLG,” one of the better essays here), “He never once worked with a script-writer,” but only if one glides past the roles of Truffaut on Breathless and Rossellini and Jean Gruault on Les Carabiniers.… Read more »

Lisl Ponger’s Cinema: The Lessons of Ignorance

I believe that this essay was completed in spring 2010 — for a rather formidable book about Austrian experimental film edited by Peter Tscherkassky, Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema, available here and here and here.  — J.R.

LislPonger

1

The lessons available from Lisl Ponger’s cinema take many forms, but perhaps one could claim that most of them are separate versions of the same lesson — the lesson of coming to terms with our own ignorance. This is already apparent in the most elementary way in the earliest film of hers I’ve seen, Film — An Exercise in Illusion 1 (1980), a travelogue in which any precise sense of what it is that’s traveling — the camera? the camera’s aperture? the scenery? — becomes ambiguous. More specifically, if the essence of film in general and film illusion in particular is motion, these three minutes of silent, super-8 shots of Venice, filmed from a moving boat — or maybe it’s one shot and/or several moving boats — features movement within the camera as well as outside it, through extreme changes in light. Which is another way of saying that we don’t really know what we’re watching, even if it’s the nature of film illusion to persuade us that we think we know, conning us into superimposing some touristic narrative over whatever we’re seeing.… Read more »

Sound and Vision (Films by Marguerite Duras)

From the September 15, 1995 issue of Chicago Reader. —J.R.

Films by Marguerite Duras

It’s surely indicative of the scarcity of Marguerite Duras movies that even a dedicated fan like me has managed to see only seven of them — and for one of those I had to drive 100 miles, from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. No Duras film has been distributed in the United States for years, and in preparing this article I wasn’t even able to obtain a complete filmography; my own provisional list includes 20 titles, stretching from La musica in 1966 to Les enfants in 1982.

If one extends this list by adding adaptations (by herself and others) of Duras literary works, the scripts she wrote for other directors, and two films by Benoit Jacquot revolving around Duras, the figure is 31 films, most of them features. So it’s no small achievement that Facets Multimedia (which, thanks to the efforts of Charles Coleman, has recently featured such adventurous fare as Manoel de Oliveira’s Valley of Abraham and an exhaustive Nanni Moretti retrospective) will be showing a dozen films from this list over the next couple of weeks, most of them in brand-new prints and most of them four to six times.… Read more »

Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen

From the Winter, 1995 issue of Cineaste. — J.R.

Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen

by Michel Chion. Translated and edited by Claudia Gorbman; Introduction by Walter Murch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 239 pp., illus., Hardcover: $93.00; Paperback: $23.85.

Eighteen years ago, during my first quarter of film teaching, I terminally alienated some of my students in a lecture course on film esthetics with the following lesson in materialism. First I showed them Buñuel and Dali’s silent Un chien andalou several times, each time with a radically different musical accompaniment. Then I asked them on a quiz whether the statement, “The use of different kinds of music to accompany a silent film changes the film profoundly,” was true or false. Afterwards I explained to them that such a statement could only be false because the film remained the same regardless of whatever music accompanied it; the music changed only the way we looked at and ‘read’ the film, not the film itself.

I’m not recommending this as a teaching method, especially if one wants one’s contract renewed (mine wasn’t), but I’m bringing it up to illustrate the degree to which a certain amount of mystification about the relationship between image and sound is firmly entrenched in the way we think about film.… Read more »

Alessandro Stellino Interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum (February 2016)

The following interview with Alessandro Stellino has just appeared, in Italian, in filmidee #15, along with Italian translations of three of my essays –- “Entertainment as Oppression,” “In Defense of Non-Masterpieces,” and  “Work and Play in the House of Fiction”. What follows is an imperfect and approximate version of this interview in its original English — respecting the structure of the Italian version, although in a few cases reconstructing my answers when I managed to lose the original emails. The interview was conducted over many emails, and I brought it to a close when I declined to reply to the question, “If you could teach a course on film history with the most possible freedom in rewriting the canon, how would your program be?”, which effectively would have obliged me to create an entire syllabus. -– J.R.

In the introduction to Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia, a book that has been particularly relevant for the founding of our magazine, you state: “It’s a strange paradox that about half of my friends and colleagues think that we’re currently approaching the end of cinema as an art form and the end of film criticism as a serious activity, while the other half believe that we’re enjoying some form of exciting resurgence and renaissance in both areas”.… Read more »

Wright in Japan [Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan]

This originally appeared in the July 22, 2005 issue of the Chicago Reader; I’ve slightly extended it here, pictorially as well as verbally, on February  8, 2010. — J.R.

MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION: **
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S
BUILDINGS AND LEGACY
IN JAPAN

DIRECTED BY KAREN SEVERNS
AND KOICHI MORI
WRITTEN BY SEVERNS
NARRATED BY AZBY BROWN AND
DONALD RICHIE

It’s widely known that Japan had a profound influence on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. But how many of us have the chance to discover that the reverse is also true? According to the commentary written by Chicago native Karen Severns for Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s  Buildings and Legacy In Japan – a 128-minute American documentary (2004) she made with her Japanese husband Koichi Mori, which also exists in a Japanese version —- the effort to distinguish between emulations and imitations of Wright in Japanese architecture criticism is no small affair, and “At one point, there were 32 Wright-related terms in the [Japanese] architectural lexicon.”

One could posit a certain analogy between this oscillating cultural exchange and a process set in motion by some young, maverick French film critics in the 50s. Their eccentric enthusiasm for some Hollywood directors produced a new kind of French cinema and French film criticism, and this wound up influencing 60s Hollywood and American film criticism in turn.… Read more »

The Guarded Intimacy of SANS SOLEIL

The following essay was commissioned by Michael Koresky at the Criterion Collection for their 2007 DVD release of Chris Marker’s Sans soleil (which they brought out with La jetée), although they eventually decided not to include it in their booklet. They made it available on their web site for a spell until an infection obliged them to remove all their essays, but Koresky has informed me that these are being reposted now that their new web site is being launched. I’m reprinting it here, in any case, with their permission. I should add that it recycles some material from my essay “On Second Thoughts,” about The Last Bolshevik, reprinted at the end of my 1997 collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.


 

 

The Guarded Intimacy of Sans soleil

by Jonathan Rosenbaum


 

“The Sorbonne should be razed and Chris Marker put in its place.” —-Henri Michaux

 

“Contrary to what people say, using the first person in films tends to be a sign of humility: `All I have to offer is myself.’”—Chris Marker


 

Even though few film essayists are more mythological than Chris Marker, it might help to clarify some matters if a couple of the more persistent myths surrounding his legend were undermined a little.Read more »

Rivette’s Rupture (DUELLE and NORÔIT)

From the Chicago Reader (February 28, 1992). For earlier reflections on both films, go here and here. — J.R.

TWHYLIGHT (DUELLE)

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jacques Rivette

Written by Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini, and Rivette

With Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Hermine Karagheuz, Jean Babilee, Nicole Garcia, and Jean Wiener.

NOR’WESTER (NORÔIT)

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jacques Rivette

Written by Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini, and Rivette

With Geraldine Chaplin, Bernadette Lafont, Kika Markham, Larrio Ekson, Jean Cohen-Solal, Robert Cohen-Solal, and Daniel Ponsard.

Dagger in hand, I scaled the heights of raw power, thanks to the male role that Rivette gave me. . . . This kind of sexual metamorphosis, this strange androgyny, never appeared in the French cinema before Rivette. After I performed the role of Giulia in Norôit I felt that I was capable of anything. Rivette changed my ideas about acting; for me, he is a kind of Mao and his films are a Cultural Revolution. — Bernadette Lafont in an interview, 1977

Though no one would ever think to call Jacques Rivette a realist, the fact remains that all of his first six features take place in a sharply perceived environment that can arguably be called the “real world.” An acute sense of place and period brought into focus largely by means of “documentary” techniques informs these haunting movies, giving them all a pungent flavor that can only be described as the taste of a particular time, milieu, and culture.… Read more »

Some Call It Loving

James B. Harris’s second feature, which I discovered and saw several times in Cannes in 1973, continues to be a particular favorite among unclassifiable films, and it has finally become available digitally (and was even recently shown on TCM). My initial review of the film for Film Comment led to be getting invited to dinner once by Harris himself along with his French distributor, Pierre Rissient; this review appeared a couple of years later, in the Autumn 1975 issue of Sight and Sound, after the film opened belatedly in London. Note: This film has also sometimes gone under the titles Sleeping Beauty and Dream Castle. — J.R.

Some Call It Loving

On the face of it, a series of outlansish imponderables: Robert Troy (Zalman King), a moody white jazz musician, occupies a baroque mansion overlooking the Pacific with Scarlett (Carol White0 and Angelica (Veronica Anderson) who sleep together and devote their waking hours to acting out his erotic fantasies — pornographic emblems which become oddly chaste through their highly formalized enactments (dancing nuns, mistress-and-maid rituals) — while his “best” and only friend Jeff (Richard Pryor), a black derelict dying of drugs and drink, worships his saxophone playing at a local nightclub…At a carnival, Troy comes upon a Sleeping Beauty sideshow, where a depraved-looking hawker in a doctor’s suit (Logan Ramsey) invites the male spectators to try to wake Jennifer (Tisa Farrow) with a kiss for the price of a dollar.… Read more »

DUELLE: Notes on a First Viewing

This essay, published in Film Comment in September-October 1976, represented one particular round in a series of initiatives and polemical forays I conducted on behalf of Jacques Rivette’s Duelle, which included getting it into the Edinburgh International Film Festival that year (and then writing about that festival at length in the Winter 1976/77 issue of Sight and Sound). One part of my effort was to engage the attention and interest of writers associated with the English theoretical magazine Screen, and this portion of the effort mainly failed: the principal response of the Screen writers who bothered to see it, as I recall in terms of their comments to me, was that it was basically warmed-over Cocteau and/or Franju – a reaction that I consider now, as I did then, to be rather obtuse and philistine. On the other hand, I no longer relish Duelle with quite the same fervor that I did at the time, even though there are certain moments in Jim Jarmusch’s very pleasurable latest feature, The Limits of Control, that remind me of it.  (Nowadays I prefer L’amour fou,  both versions of Out 1, and Celine and Julie Go Boating — for me the peaks of Rivette’s work to date.) This article may be somewhat dated in other respects as well, but I still rather like the way that I use Barthes, the Tower of Babel, and Patti Smith.– J.R.Read more »

Vietnam Under Glass [THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA]

From the Chicago Reader (March 11, 1994). — J.R.

*** THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA

(A must-see)

Directed and written by Tran Anh Hung

With Lu Man San, Tran Nu Yen-khe, Truong Thi Loc, Nguyen Anh Hoa, Vuong Hoa Hoi, and Tran Ngoc Trung.


Until fairly recently, films from the Chinese- and Vietnamese-speaking world have had next to no distribution here; so it’s worth noting that three such movies have been nominated for the foreign-language Oscar: Farewell My Concubine from Hong Kong, The Wedding Banquet from Taiwan, and The Scent of Green Papaya from Vietnam. The first two of these have already opened in Chicago, and the third — in some ways my favorite in the bunch — is starting a run this week at the Fine Arts. What overlapping interests — economic, cultural, artistic, ideological — are being served by this sudden upsurge in attention?

Interestingly enough, none of these Oscar nominees qualifies purely and unambiguously as a movie representing the country officially attached to it. Though Farewell My Concubine was produced in Hong Kong, all its action takes place in mainland China, and it was directed by a celebrated “Fifth Generation” filmmaker, Chen Kaige. The Wedding Banquet, a Taiwanese-American coproduction, has a Taiwanese director, Ang Lee, but it’s set in New York City and much of its dialogue is in English.… Read more »